The national news is fond of reporting on Chicago’s crime scene, particularly as it concerns the city's black community. What has received less attention, however, it how the city's crime rate correlates with its abysmal unemployment rate.
A new report from the Alternative Schools Network shows that while the state's unemployment rate isn't too, too bad at 4.6 percent, when you look at unemployment by age, you realize that the majority of Illinois' youth are unemployed.
And not like 51 percent. 70 percent of the state's 16 to 24-year-olds don't have a job.
And if that wasn't bad enough, the report published by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Chicago, clearly shows a racial disparity.
A whopping 85 percent of 16 to 19-year-old black Chicago residents do not have jobs, compared to the same age demographic among whites (73.4 percent) and Latinos (81.5 percent).
You might say, Those are kids, they need to be in school anyway. But things aren't much rosier for Chicagoans in their early 20s. Black 20 to 24-year-olds have an unemployment rate of 60 percent, while whites of that age are at 23.7 percent, and Latinos are at 33 percent.
The report didn’t just crunch numbers; it also dove into the reasons behind them. And as you might expect, the authors found systemic racism and the city's ugly racial history to be factors.
Most available jobs are in Chicago’s central financial district in the downtown area, known as “the Loop” as well as within the wealthy north and west suburb limits.
Chicago’s South Side — which, as you probably know, has a large concentration of black people — was found to have fewer opportunities.
Communities in the predominantly white North Side boasted between 10,362 and 31,427 new jobs in the time period the study looked at. Meanwhile, South Side neighborhoods averaged a measly 6,692 jobs.
Having enough jobs available within one's neighborhood wasn’t the only issue.
A huge chunk of South Side neighborhood residents couldn’t even get to the jobs located north of them if they wanted to. The study found that the city’s public transit system (the bus and ‘L’ train) largely caters to North Side residents, and those in the southern areas (who are more likely than their fellow Chicagoans to the North to not have a car), do not have as much access.
“When youth from the far South Side see a job listing that’s in the Loop, they’re not even going to fill out the application,” said report co-author Matt Wilson. “The time and cost to get there is prohibitive.”
There is some hope for change, however. Government officials have realized that this high unemployment is hurting the city's income tax revenue, and they do not like that at all.
Illinois senator Dick Durbin and Representative Robin Kelly have recently introduced federal legislation offering tax breaks to businesses that hire at-risk youth. Additionally, their initiative contains a plan to provide grants for employment opportunities aimed at young residents.
“The proposed legislation is an important beginning step,” noted Wilson, “but it is not a holistic solution.”
Chicago's youth deserve much, much better.